Cinematic style executed with precision.
Assassin’s Creed III follows directly on from where Assassin’s Creed: Revelations left off story-wise, but instead of Desmond’s ancestor Ezio you play as his Native American ancestor Connor and father Haytham Kenway (in a sort of extended opening sequence come tutorial) during the years of the USAs war for independence and revolution against the British Colonialists; this provides my favourite setting of the series thus far, American history is a subject that personally enjoy quite a lot. Connor’s history is paramount to Desmond’s mission for averting the end of the world in the year 2012 as Desmond and his gang require a key that belonged to Connor, only they needed to find out where it was hidden. Trouble is, I had no real idea of what was going on, as the only previous game I’ve played in the series was around half of the original.
Overly complicated plots aside, the game oozes cool and plays actually very well throughout Connors sections, luckily these make up the majority of the time you will spend in the game, although occasionally the game does break off to small sections where you play as Desmond but thankfully these are few and far between. Connor is able to fully explore Colonial Boston, New York and various expanses of forest and swampland in the American Frontier. While this does not present a seamless open world, each area is vast and completely filled with stuff to do. In each city there is a whole host of side missions to accomplish, ranging from finding and collecting pages from almanacs to stalking and subsequently assassinating targets roaming the streets and in the Frontier there are eagle feathers to find, trinkets to find and plenty of hunting to take part in. All of these side missions are entirely that, side missions. You do not have to do any of them if you do not want to; the player only has to complete the main missions but I’m not sure why you would want to skip out on the side missions as they really flesh out the games world into something quite impressive.
The attention to detail in the game’s world is ludicrous, the way people walk the streets, stumbling around if drunk, many of them having conversations around what is going on at the time and many just talking. Walking around the eighteenth century cities of New York and Boston really is a fantastic experience both visually and audibly. Climbing and jumping around the forests and swamps of the Frontier is also fantastic, each animal (after you or not) acts like their real life counterpart: tomcats stalk you like they would their prey while rabbits and deer run the instant they spot you, bounding off into the distance scared. There is a point to hunting, to finish certain side quests, but at the end of the day, it just adds an extra level of immersion and detail to an already impressive game. Ubisoft really made a game brimming with life set in a very believable world, at least until you get to the twenty-first century Desmond sections.
Desmond’s sections of the game I’m afraid do not add anything to the game, in fact all they seem to do is take away from the main aspect of the game – running about and assassinating in the past. While these sections play well enough, they do just distract from the main game. In fact every flaw in the game can be summed up simply by playing these terrible sections of the game; they are dull, devoid of character and are far too moody and edgy for their own good. While these sections highlight the bad characters and heavy-handed emphasis on edgy conversations mixed with unnatural moodiness they are not that often and only serve to make you truly appreciate the main game.
However, the main game also contains several of the problems obvious in Desmond’s sections. Several characters are just down right unlikable, including the protagonist Connor. Ubisoft failed in making Connor seem human and at times he just seems too moody and devoid of humour, even then he is not a patch on any of the characters found in the modern sections of the game. In fact this problem stems from the writing, which for the most part is not too bad, but on occasion the writers seem to just want to create pointless drama based on highly unlikeable characters interacting with other unlikeable characters who are meant to be the good guys by being moody and edgy, it is just annoying and can put you off the game from time to time. Thankfully, these annoying conversations are found mostly in the modern day sections. Connor: one, Desmond: zero.
Luckily the game’s positives vastly outweigh the negatives. Heck, some characters are actually very good, Haytham for example is a brilliant villain superbly written and acted by Adrian Hough who also serves as the playable character in the game’s fantastic opening sequence and glorified tutorial. This brings us neatly on to the game’s voice acting which for the most part is actually well done, yes, even Desmond. British characters in particular however showcase solid videogame voice acting.
Gameplay is perhaps the finest aspect of the game, and combat mixed with stealth is key. Ubisoft nailed it. Combat is fluid and allows you to attack with any weapon (or not) in your disposal, pistols, hatchets, daggers, hidden blades, full on combat axes, swords, bow and arrow, smoke bombs, etc… Often, while dispatching of guards – for fun, for a mission or entirely accidentally from being spotted – you will have to flee, Connor (and Haytham) can hide in haystacks, wells or just by running fast and far enough away. It’s great that it’s up to you how to dispatch of enemies, by either brutal force, or silently, the game does award successful stealth, but for the most part you can just run in and butcher everyone. Stealth in Assassin’s Creed III is not as in depth as in series’ such as Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, but it is fun stalking targets and slowly silencing them one by one.
Another aspect of gameplay in this game is a series’ first: ship missions. These see Connor take the helm of a ship either taking out enemy ships or just avoiding craggy rocks sitting in the sea. Ship combat is simple and fluid, and customisable through the purchase of different shot rounds and ramming masts. It’s a shame that these do not turn up much In the main story, but there are many ship missions to be found in the homestead, something the game does not tell you. Each of these ship missions act as a visual powerhouse and provide one of the cores to the game’s success.
Visuals in the game range from stunning to decent and the game runs fairly well considering it’s just a quick port, but that is another of the game’s problems; as it is a quick port, the developers did little with the Wii U’s unique hardware, the gamepad. The gamepad acts as an expanded mini-map throughout the game, but it could have been so much more. It could have provided a quick access weapons menu, a quick access to the animus database or even a whole map (as seen in Batman: Arkham City). But no, all you get is an expanded mini-map or off-TV play (which is always nice), pausing to see the whole map is a pain that could have easily been averted simply by utilising the touchscreen, but no.
Playing around in eighteenth century USA is fantastic experience badly marred by the game’s insistence on moody characters found largely in the modern sections of the game that really should not be there, spoiling an otherwise awesome game with a great mix of combat, stealth, fluid controls, fantastic graphics and animation work, ship battles and Haytham Kenway, who (for me at least) stole the limelight from Connor.
Assassin’s Creed III is a fantastic game with a sublime eye for detail and fast and fluid gameplay that suffers badly from dual personalities and downright unlikeable characters with a confusing plot thrown in for good measure.
P.S. To top it all off there is also an online multiplayer mode that actually seems decent.